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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
North Korea announced it would establish a parliamentary Diplomatic Commission via the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday, following the fifth session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang a day earlier.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, clad in a black Mao-style suit attended the meeting, according to state-owned broadcaster Korean Central Television (KCTV).
Five agendas were discussed at the parliamentary meeting: a review of the Cabinet’s work in 2016 and their tasks for 2017, the execution of state budget in 2016 and budget announcements for 2017, enforcement of the universal 12-year compulsory education system, and the “election of the Diplomatic Commission of the SPA and organizational matters.”
The North’s SPA officially proclaimed Ri Su Yong would chair the Diplomatic Commission. Ri is the former foreign minister and the current vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
Chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification Ri Son Gwon, first vice-minister of Foreign Affairs Kim Kye Gwan and vice-premier of the Cabinet Ri Ryong Nam were elected as members of the diplomatic panel.
Kim previously served as the chief nuclear envoy for the DPRK at the Six-Party Talks, and led several talks between the North and the U.S., including discussions about the suspected Kumchangri underground nuclear facility in 1998.
But South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) said on Wednesday the Diplomatic Commission already existed prior to 1998, and first appeared in the DPRK constitution in 1992, only to be deleted six years later.
“North Korea now has the goal of developing the nuclear weapons by itself and also pursues other conflicting goals like improving the economy and foreign relations,” MOU spokesperson Lee Duk-haeng told media at a regular news briefing.
“At this point, it is worth noting [the creation of the Diplomatic Commission shows the North] also pays attention to different aims, other than nuclear weapons,” Lee said, though adding the function of the SPA is “very limited.”
Cheong Seong-chang, a Senior Fellow at the Sejong Institute, pointed out the previous Diplomatic Commission was created to improve relations with western countries including the U.S. and Japan in late 1989 when other socialist systems in Eastern Europe were collapsing.
Cheong added that the members of the organization have been key figures in negotiations with the South, U.S. Diplomacy, and public diplomacy.
“It is understood as a preparation for strengthening diplomatic ties with the South, Japan, and the West including the U.S. to avoid the current serious international isolation after the South Korean presidential election in May.”
Ki Kwang Ho, North Korean Minister of Finance, also made a report about the budget and said the national budget spending for 2017 would rise by 5.4 percent compared to the last year.
The largest sectoral spending increase will be public health, which will rise by 13.3 percent, KCNA said in a Korean dispatch.
The nation’s spending on the education will rise by 9.1 percent and budget for science and technology will increase by 8.5 percent.
This year’s defense budget accounts for 15.8 percent of the total expenditures, which was allocated in the same proportions as it was last year.
On June 29, the North newly created the State Affairs Commission and appointed Kim Jong Un as chairman at the fourth session of the 13th SPA. The Secretariat of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea was dissolved and the DPRK Committee for the Peaceful Reunification was set up in its place.
Featured Image: Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)